Well, it was very interesting. My first Dakar, first electric car, my first everything.
And not just for me.
I understood it there, that everyone has their own Dakar.
And it is not only the question of a different perception of the same events. No, everything is different for every participant in the overall process – the race structure, its schedule, events, goals, and results.
The first time I saw this wording was in the title of Vadim Pritulyak’s book, My Dakar. The story of one rally of a lifetime… And it was only after being at Dakar myself I was able to realize the true meaning of these two words, My Dakar.
Words can have many meanings, but their meanings can be very special when they are defined by personal experience.
|From: Grigorov, Anton |
Sent: Wednesday, December 21, 2011
To: Grigorov, Anton
Subject: Dakar 2012, Anton Grigorov
We have approached the end of 2011, which means that only a few days are left until the beginning of Dakar 2012. The race starts on January 1, 2012.
Dakar 2012 will cross the entire South American continent from the south-east to the north-west, and the route will go across three countries, Argentina, Chile, and for the first time, Peru. Dakar 2012 in numbers: 15 days, a total of 8.4 thousand km including 4.2 thousand km of special stages and 4.2 thousand km of liaisons, and hundreds of supporting equipment and journalists.
And this year I will be part of all of this, part of the main race of the year!
For those who don’t know, this is my first Dakar and the second race in my entire life. My first rally-raid was Silk Way Rally 2011, where I was a member of the Vnesheconombank RRT team (more info at www.withrally.com/site/2011ENG).
Team Latvia gave me the opportunity to participate in Dakar 2012. For the first time in the history of Dakar team Latvia put to the race an all-electric SUV, OSCar eO.
Please meet Team Latvia at Dakar 2012:
This is an international team consisting of 20 people and 7 units of machinery including:
Two SUVs, ready to race: OSCar eO (electric-powered vehicle, # 370 – Maris Saukans and Andris Dambis, the engineering director of OSCar eO ) and OSCar O3 (# 467 – Anton Grigorov and Ainars Princis);
- DAF truck (# 574 – Jean-Charles Mauri, Jean-Claude Kaket and Kaspars Dambis – France, Belgium, Lativa);
- support crews: two Mercedes trucks (Haralds Ulmis, Ingus Ulmis, Kristaps Ulmis, Aldis Zarins, Kaspars Ozolins, Gunars Briedis);
- two Nissan Navaro vehicles: one technical vehicle (Arnis Mellups, Kristaps Dambis, Oleg Dorofeev) and reporters’ vehicle (Alexander Morozov, Sergey Utkin, Luka Ivo Indrands);
- team leader – Normunds Avotins.
20 people, and that’s only those team members that are involved in the race directly. Many more contributed to a project that became possible due to hard work of dozens of enthusiasts from many countries in the world working towards a common goal.
The main goal of the team is to see OSCar eO at the finish line, my main goal – to see myself at the finish line. Next to the electric vehicle.
So, this is his Majesty, Dakar.
14 stages totaling 8,370 km, including special stages of 4,190 km, and liasons of 4,180 km.
443 crews, including: motorbikes – 178, quads – 30, cars – 161, and trucks – 74. 248 (56%) made it to the finish line.
742 sportsmen of 50 nationalities (the youngest – 20 years old, the oldest – 71 years old), 980 registered suppport crew, 285 journalists, 1,800 accredited media.
210 organizers transport vehicles and aircraft, including 11 helicopters, 12 airplanes, 55 trucks, numerous motorcycles, buses, and cars.
2,500 people were served daily at the bivouacs.
The rally was broadcast in 190 countries, 1,500 hours of air time, 100 million visits to the Dakar official webpage during the race, a billion TV viewers all over the world.
Do you see now the scale of this event?
It is equal to three Silk Way Rallies in terms of the participant numbers, and this is without including motorcycles. It is equal to two Silk Way Rallies in terms of length, and five Silk Way Rallies in terms of difficulty,although this year the Silk Way Rally is supposed to be much more challenging. Sure, without the old Dakar Series template the organizers can do more than anyone can imagine! We will see what will happen.
For me, the Silk Way Rally is the best and the only practice for myself, the team, and our equipment in competition. Once you pass the Silk Way, you are ready for Dakar. And soon this might even reverse. The Silk Way Rally will take place between June 7-13, 2012 with the route from Moscow to Gelendzhik. To see all the information and updates about the Silk Way Rally, to follow its special stages, and to see great photos and videos, visit http://silkwayrally.ru.
Team Latvia (http://driveeo.com/) has done something revolutionary this year. A team driving a fully electric vehicle has mounted the finish line podium at Dakar 2012. This is an event of a lifetime.
My team completely achieved their set goal – to have an electric vehicle at the finish line. As for me, believe it or not, the goal I declared before the start, which was, word for word exactly “to be at the finish line podium… next to the electric vehicle” came true. This is exactly how I wished it – “next to”, as I finished by foot and without my car.
In total I drove about 8 thousand kilometers of the race, including a little more than 4 thousand kilometers of special stages. 100 km before the 13th finish line (the second to last) my OSCar’s motor said, “Stop, I’ve had enough!” During the 29 kilometers of the final 14th stage I was watching as a spectator, with a camera in my hands.
What seemed strangest to me, at the moment where I left the race, was my calm reaction to what was going on. Many people would have assumed that I should have been very disappointed, but it was simply too bad that we could not finish because of the vehicle, with only a short distance left to go. Most likely my reaction is connected to the fact that I’ve completely achieved everything that I went there for. I made my dream come true, I participated in Dakar.
However, it was galling. It is like at the Olympics! Now I understand why they invented the motto “It’s not to win, but to participate.”
All I wanted at that moment was to take the electric car which was continuing the challenge alone, lift it like a toy, and move it to the finish line. With that thought in mind I watched my team leaving, after I gave them all my water and packed food. They had a night in front of them, and 100 km of nearly impassable sand. As things turned out, after about three hours the organizers informed us that the last five or ten kilometers of the last stage had been cancelled for all the remaining vehicles, due to the large number of retirements. Maybe my thoughts had worked?
When I got through thinking about the breakdown and saying farewell, my next thought was, “All right, I didn’t make it. And now what? Do I have to do it again? Another Dakar? There is no way I am going to go through all this again! No way!”
But, as experienced racers say, this riot stays in your mind only for four to six weeks. Then you don’t even notice how passionately you start to get ready for the next Dakar. This is exactly what happened to me. I plan to participate everywhere, in the Silk Way rally and in Dakar, and training is already scheduled for the entire year in front of me.
|Vadim Pritulyak (aka Khokhol, Ukraine. Participant in multiple Dakar races on motorcycle)
What makes people get together at the end of the world, and drive thousand of kilometers in steppes, mountains, deserts, where behind every corner, and every dune, there might be danger waiting for them? Why suffer inconveniences, eat irregularly and not get enough sleep? Around the fifth day of the race almost everybody ask themselves, “What am I actually doing here? Why do I need all this?” But immediately after finishing Dakar everyone starts preparing for the next start.
I called this phenomena the Dakar syndrome.
You already know how I ended up at Dakar (www.withrally.com/site/2011ENG Silk Way Rally 2011).
So I decided to ask friends and team members about how they’ve come to this, and about other related things. Here are their stories:
|Team member – Alexander Morozov (St. Petersburg)
How did I end up at Dakar?
I was in Moscow for business on the day the Silk Way Rally 2011 started. My friend Anton was taking part in this rally. Of course, I could not miss my best friend’s first rally, and went as a fan.
A week later I flew to Sochi, to see the final.
Watching the podium I had mixed feelings: I felt happiness for these blissful people exhausted by the marathon but happy to be at the finish line, I felt pride for my friend (not only because he came to the finish line as he planned, but also had good results), but also some kind of envy, for all these people experiencing life at its fullest.
After the podium I asked Anton, “What’s next?” and his answer was simple. “Dakar,” he said with a smile. Without even thinking and getting into the details of it, I blurted out that I would come along. And nobody was getting into details, nobody, including Anton, had no idea how to do it, but we simply decided to go for it.
When a couple of weeks later Anton told me that he had confirmed his participation in Dakar as a pilot of one of Team Latvia’s two vehicles, and that I may have the honor to have my own Dakar as the pilot of a reporters’ vehicle, I thought of it as if it was the way it should be, although you couldn’t find anybody happier on planet Earth at that moment.
There were a lot of challenges. It was hard. I knew it would be hard, but I could not imagine that it would be hard to the extent that it was. Nevertheless, all of us were confident about ourselves. Dakar was hard but we were able to manage it, although sometimes we could not believe we were able to endure.
One legendary Dakar racer told us, one night at a bivouac, the big Dakar secret, “Do you know why people come to Dakar? You suffer for two weeks, but then you brag about it for the entire year!”
I could not understand it back then, but now being at home I can see what he meant. Keeping the tradition of writing a journal, after writing a short report about the Silk Way Rally 2011, I wrote this in four months:
The race. The long race, that exhausts people and vehicles. Everything is on edge.
For a while everything seems fine. Things go right. You go smoothly, on time, nothing breaks, all your team is fine. And then suddenly it all stops. One failure after another. One misfortune after another. No luck at all. It hurts. It’s very painful. And this happens all the time. Two days up, two days down, and again, and again, and again. Ups and downs; the rollercoaster of Dakar.
The Dakar experience is the quintessence of everything. Of energy, relationships, and characters.
You start seeing people the way they really are. Seeing what’s inside. Everything that was underneath and invisible in normal life shows up out there, at Dakar. It’s very interesting to observe. You can’t see it in normal life. Only there. Only there, where the hardship, pain, and challenge, is, only there, where Dakar is.
The 9th day of the race (Antofagasta-Iquique) was 556 km divided into two special stages, 340 and 90 km long, with a liaison of 126 km.
It was at that liaison where the crew of Ales Loprais crashed their truck. They were the champions of the Silk Way Rally 2011 and were serious contenders to win the Dakar 2012 in the trucks classification. Their mechanic simply fell asleep at the wheel. Fortunately there were no fatalities, although the crew had severe injuries and the Dakar truck was beyond repair.
Somewhere in the middle of the second 90 km special stage (in the middle of the night) we veered off from the route, went into the wrong gorge, and immediately went down off the mountains towards the ocean. When we understood our mistake it was too late. It was impossible to go uphill on sand, although we tried.
We had few options: to try to find the road up to the plateau by chance, or to play safe. We tried the first option, but after travelling 15 km through the mountains trying to find the road up the hill, we decided not to waste our time any further and headed back to the start of the second special stage.
At four o’clock in the morning we were at the start line. It had no signs, so we found it by luck after a lot of effort. We easily passed the familiar 40 km, found the right exit, and continued on the route. On the road we overtook the organizers, closing the route. At 7 o’clock in the morning we were at the bivouac.
This story was a test of our ability to overcome difficulties. After this we barely slept for four nights in a row.
We were on the way to our “third” start of the day, when we stopped at a gas station. It was the middle of the night, with not a soul around. The guy at the gas station who did not speak a word of English, put 100 liters in our tank. I was closing the back door and I remember how a thick layer of dust fell from it. There was nothing else there.
But the following morning at the bivouac, when I got out of the car after being in it for 22 hours, I saw that somebody had written some letters in the dust on the back door. It said, SUERTE.
SUERTE – this is what all the locals were yelling when they saw us. SUERTE means luck, and we sure needed some luck that day.
And to tell you about the great attitude of locals towards the race and its participants – it is totally a different story. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
At Dakar I felt like I was Gagarin. Imagine going through a village, or simply driving on the road, and to the left and to the right there are crowds of people, and they welcome you, the Dakar racer, with flags and posters. Imagine stopping at a red light or a gas station, and kids and adults asking you for an autograph and to write your car number. For the first time in my life I gave an autograph on the chest of a gorgeous woman! In Mendosa, Argentina, people rushed to us at traffic lights and were giving us water. Ice cold water. They all shared with us their energy.
And of course I have to separately mention the posters of the Argentinians, Chileans, and Peruvians. They had all kind of posters where they neatly wrote by hand, «Fuerza Dakar», «Dakar Energy», and I especially was touched by «Russia!» and laughed at «Os daremos agua, pero plata - no!» (Let’s give them water, but not silver!). And of course, SUERTE!
And every day you are surrounded by amazing nature: mountains – black, red, green, with snow and without snow on top, pampas, two oceans, and of course, the desert.
Dakar will always remain in my heart, and part of my heart I left there.
As I mentioned previously, the second part of the race was a real challenge, a test of endurance. The schedule of the last days was approximately like this:
The start in the morning. We started at the end of the peloton, so we always knew that there was nobody behind us, and we drove in moderation. In the dunes the gap increased, as we had to find alternative ways to the route because of the bad road conditions, and the peculiarities of an electric vehicle. Andris Dambis has already solved all the problems with the car that he had at Dakar, so we will see his results in the Silk Way Rally this year. The Silk Way Rally will have its first electric vehicle. It will be very interesting!
We reach the main challenges in the evening. The four of us are standing on top of a giant dune somewhere in the Atacama.
There is an ocean far away. Enormous, black, and silent. And an enormous scarlet sun descends right behind it. And it immediately paints the sky with horizontal stripes of different colors, from yellow-reddish to dark blue. Scattered clouds far away shimmer with ever-changing shades of crimson and gray. And to top it all, there is a huge airliner flying BELOW us and over this ancient view, going in to land in a nearby town. And I realize that it will be totally dark in half an hour, and we have so many kilometers of the most challenging sands, dust, and mountains ahead of us.
The sun continues its descent. Three more minutes, and it will be gone. It will continue its way on the other side of the planet, where home is, and winter. I keep looking at it and start thinking about my family. It breaks my heart. But instead of saying “What on earth am I doing here?!”, I say, “Lord, it is so beautiful!”
We open our packed meals, eat the food which seems so tasty, drink warm water and juice, admire the views, joke (as much as we can) and decide what to do next – to wait for dawn or to keep moving. And every time we make the same decision, to keep going forward, mainly because we realize that if we stay in the sands until dawn, there is a big risk that we won’t make it to the finish line, or to the bivouac, on time. However, at night it is much more challenging to pass through the sands.
Around midnight we watch the moon rise. It’s clear, immense, beautiful and long-awaited. We can now see the outlines of the roads, as well as the mountains and dunes that surround us. It feels more comfortable this way. So in this manner, often leaving the car, we continue our journey, with cables and lamps in hand.
Then dawn starts. We start going faster and reach our usual speed. The sun comes out. For a while they shine together – the moon, losing its power, and the sun, gaining all the strength. Of course, there is already nobody at the CP nor at the finish line. Iritrack makes a nice beep after catching another point by satellite, and I am glad that we have passed a new route section.
We arrive at the bivouac in the morning, and drive in to find out that the leaders have started already! All are lining up to start, and we are just coming in. We are tired and sleep deprived, but happy. The team is happy. The mechanics rush to our cars, waving hello on the go. They have not more than an hour and a half for maintenance and repairs. Meanwhile we shower, eat, rest if we can, and then go back to our cars. There is a new day ahead of us, and another night.
There is nobody behind us at the start line. OsCar eO, my OsCar o3 and our truck. And that’s it.
And it was like this every day for the last few days.
They even stopped counting us on the rally’s website, as the data on start and finish was posted on the site before we were crossing the finish line. They filled in our start papers by hand and then manually entered the data into the system. Many people at home lost track of us.
|More from Vadim Pritulyak. On expectations and difficulties. Excerpts from his book about the same route, but in 2010.
The days and the events are all mixed up in my head. The entire race turned for me into a marathon that I was going through with my teeth clenched all the time.
That morning we reached heights of almost 4,500 meters. The route crossed the border, and the next stage was through the Chilean Andes, taking the racers to the Pacific Ocean through the sands of the Atacama Desert.
Cross-checking my road-book against the instruments I knew that the finish line was near.
Three motorcyclists stood on the top of the next dune. I decided not to stop. My desire to reach the finish line was stronger than the temptation to take a break. I easily got up the dune, coming close to the motorcyclists and at that moment the beauty of the surrounding view simply took my breath away. We were on top of an enormous sand mountain, with the boundless Pacific Ocean ahead of us. Below was the coastal strip and Dakar’s bivouac. To the right of the bivouac I saw the vehicles and spectators, forming a narrow passage to the finish line.
I stopped only for a moment. Then, screaming from the top of my lungs, I raced my motorcycle towards the final line. The length of the descent was 2,300 meters. The slope more than 30 degrees. The speed – 140 km/h. Unforgettable!
After this stage, the list of participants became much shorter. All night we could see the lights of those who had a victory over the sand and were going to the finish line.
My son and I often recall how next to us at a folding wooden table were sitting mechanics, waiting for two buggies that we had no information about. At first everybody was laughing, telling jokes to each other. Then people started to talk quietly while sipping the freshly brewed coffee. And then they were silently staring at the scratches and patterns of the wood. But nobody went to bed.
A 73 year old man turned his camping chair in the direction of the mountain, and until dawn peered into darkness where his son and his sons friends were trying to break out of the sand and the night of the tricky Atacama Desert.
|Maris Saukans (pilot of OSCar eO, multiple Dakar participant)
Dakar. What is it all about? Why? How?
These are the most frequent questions one is asked after the rally.
It seems, the answer should be easy, but it is extremely difficult for me to answer why I was there. I can tell you stories, about various situations and things that happened on the road and during rest. But it is quite different for me to explain it to you so you could really understand. It’s simple: to understand the answers to these simple questions you need to have experienced participating in events like this.
Dakar is not the same for everyone. Each individual tries to go there to achieve their own goals. For some it’s their job, for some it’s a hobby, a vacation. Some seek to participate in Dakar to learn more about themselves. To answer, who am I, why am I?
Dakar is like a test site, like a big school where your study year after a year. I can recognize those who study there with me by just looking into their eyes. I can see it in the eyes of an unknown person coming from God knows where, that he is one of us. And when I see such people, I wish them luck, and for them to reach the finish line.
The most valuable treasure that I’ve got at Dakar is my experience. This is all I need to have. It belongs only to me. And I can do with it whatever I want.
It’s not even about Dakar. Each person has their own Dakar. Which means, that you can learn about yourself through anything and even through many things.
At one Dakar, in Africa back then, in Mauritania, we had a very challenging day, more than 700 km of desert. A sandstorm that lasted many hours, began right after we started. I drove for more than 14 hours. And I, like another 80% of the race participants, was out of fuel. And all of us were randomly scattered across the Mauritanian Desert for hundreds of kilometers. Technical vehicles and the vehicles of organizers were out of fuel too. We were gathering racers together for more than two days. The situation was critically dangerous. Sportsmen were getting together, 2-3 crews close to each other. Completely different people from different continents speaking different languages stood united. We shared our last bottle of water, one sip for every racer per hour.
Our crew got help only after 40 hours.
And after this story I can say, it is easy at Dakar, and it is much more difficult to live here.
Dakar’s medal has two sides. Some of the participants will never return to their homes. The medal is not the goal. The goal is to return home. To return to live the life that was given to you, to do what’s left to do. I always return home with a victory. A victory over a dune, over myself, with new friends, emotions, feelings, understandings, and a great experience.
As for this Dakar, it was hard for everyone, but only these four people know how hard it really was. I always brought myself to the finish line. This time our mission together was to take the electric vehicle to the finish line, and we did it!
One of those “sandy” nights the generator that was charging the small (regular) battery, which in turn controls the entire vehicle electronics system, stopped working. It was very strange – a very powerful unit with large batteries becomes useless for lack of a small battery. You look at this “spaceship” and realize that it is dying. It is young and healthy, but lethargic. It’s body keeps working but it does not move, being awkwardly stuck on one of the dunes.
It took us more than three desperate hours. We took the car’s paneling off, removed the battery, set the second one to charge, and tried to charge with wires. It was all in vain. It is cold at night in the desert, so we were taking turns to sit in my OSCar to stay warm. Maris fell asleep on the sand and slept there for an hour. He could barely stand straight when he woke-up, he could not move his cold limbs and he was freezing. He wanted to sleep so badly he did not feel cold in his sleep.
There were moments when we all had really bad thoughts. That it’s the end. That there is no escape. Should we drag the car through the sand until the finish line? But how? It’s not possible, even with a truck! At the same time we kept trying and trying all things possible.
The mechanic in our team truck was Kaspars Dambis. Kaspars is a young, happy, and very smart guy, a son of Andris Dambis, the creator of the electric vehicle.
When we figured out that we wouldn’t be able to revive the battery, and that a new battery wouldn’t last long either, Kaspars took off the generator and took it apart. He cleaned it, carefully assembled and put it back. It took him only two hours. In the sands. At night! After that we turned on the engine and…. we were shocked! The battery started to charge.
|Antanas Juknevicius (Lithuania)
At the end of our first Dakar, in 2003, our car was barely moving. It reached the point where we even stopped turning it off, as we could not start the car, the battery had died, and we could only start the car while it was moving with a cable. The batteries were completely dead and we could not charge them.
Libya. In one of the stages, it was getting dark when we came to the next checkpoint, and the organizers were telling us not to proceed as the next stage was impossible to pass at night.
There was sand ahead of us. There is a region there, called Akakus. It’s a labyrinth of sand and 3-4 meter high rock formations, which mean that effectively you cannot see from the top where to go. The sand is soft and marshy. We were driving trying not to get stuck, then we saw a small dune, went up, and then stopped, and the engine went off.
It was late, dark, and we were in the labyrinth, and not on the main road. There was nobody behind us, and we couldn’t start the car. We felt hopeless! But I have it in my personality, that I never give up. I always try to do something. So I took a shovel and started to dig out the tires and put sand tracks underneath. The navigator started to tell me, “Why are you doing this? The car won’t start anyway!” And I said, “Listen, let’s do something, what’s the point of just sitting around?” I continued to dig and to work around the car. Aurelius sat on the side. What was there to do? How were we supposed to get out of there? We did not have any communication means back then. It was simply scary.
I never told this to anybody except my family. Before I started to dig, I tried to start the car several times, and I couldn’t do it. The battery was dead, it was not even turning over the engine, for quite a long time.
When I finished, I petted the car and prayed. I was really praying, from the bottom of my heart, and asked God, although I’ve never done it before. Never before and never after.
Then I went back to the car, and turned the engine on at once. I still don’t understand how the car did turn on. That night we were able to leave that area, and in the morning we were at the bivouac.
|Artur Ardavichus (Third place in trucks category, Dakar 2012)
How did you end up at Dakar?
My first Dakar was in 2008. Back then we were going as a big Kazakh team, in five SUVs. We were getting ready for an entire year, building our car, contributing our time, money, and effort.
A few days before the start we arrived in Lisbon, then on January 3 and 4 passed the administrative and technical inspections, and put the vehicles in the parc ferme. The next day, January 5th, was the start of the race. Everybody was getting nervous before the start. On January 4, however, we went to the next briefing and were all told that the Dakar was cancelled!
This was like, say, at a casino, when you play and suddenly lose everything. Or as if you suddenly walk into a glass door and really hurt yourself. You sit down and try to come back to reality. And you can’t influence it in any way! A no is a no.
You feel you have been used, except you don’t really know who has used you. For three days we were in shock, then moved on, to the World Cup.
Next time I went to Dakar in 2011, we came 8th to the finish line. In 2012, as you know, I won the bronze medal. It was not easy at all. I started 33rd. The first and most important task at the start is to get into the head of the race. The first 60 km long SS was the crucial one. We were risking a lot, went ahead of many in the sand. We came 4th to the finish line. Then we drove with the speed we wanted.
Generally speaking, my road to Dakar started in 1995. Motorbikes at first, then all kinds of car races, rallies, rally-raids. To achieve something, you must really want it. I had wanted to do it since childhood. The dream seemed to be very distant and not feasible. But dreams come true, if you move towards them.
During the race you are always calm and cheerful. Are you not nervous at all or do you hide your feelings?
Never show that you are nervous to anybody. Being nervous means being weak. And if you show your weakness, you lose already. You have to take it easy.
What is the spirit of Dakar, it’s flavor?
This is simple. I feel this flavor on the fifth day. You come to the technical truck, the guys are sleeping, not all were able to shower, some go to bed before they can shower because there is so much to do.
This is the real flavor of Dakar. This smell is unique. When I feel this smell, I immediately remember how they talk about the flavor and the spirit of Dakar. Yeah, I think, here I come. This is the place where miracles happen.
|Vladimir Chagin (simply Vladimir Gennadievich Chagin. In January of this year he celebrated his 42nd birthday, which became the 21st at Dakar. Half of his life, exactly)
Dakar was different in Africa. The length of the route, the challenge – all was much more serious. There were minimum amenities. The shower was organized the following way – there were meter-high posts arranged in squares on sand, with sackcloths hanging at about 40 cm high. Then an old bucket, and a small scoop the size of a cup. And on the fifth day of hot desert all of us, men and women, could shower naked on Red Square without even thinking twice. You stand there, wash yourself, pour the rest of the water on yourself, and you are happy.
People went there to escape civilization. A minimum of comfort. This is the spirit of Dakar. It was working, because when after two or three weeks after all this, after the finish line you come to your hotel room and immediately go to shower, with running water, of which you don’t have to count every drop, and then you crawl into a bed with white linen. Can you imagine how differently you see the world after Dakar?
Or imagine breakfast at the canteen, or dinner, when totally different people gather at one table. They are of different nationalities, different social backgrounds. Imagine a postman from a French village, he does not make much money. He was dreaming about Dakar for a long time, saving money, came on a motorcycle (of course, how can he afford a jeep), he doesn’t have a mechanic, just a small case of spare parts. So he came to Dakar and used all his money, and he probably borrowed some as well. And right next to him there is a professional German racer. Famous, all kind of titles and regalia. He came to Dakar for a salary that his team pays him. And next to him there is a businessman from the US. He doesn’t even know how much did it all cost, he doesn’t even care. His race manager paid all the costs, for the jeep, the fuel. He is simply on vacation. And he also sits at this table, and they all talk, and find things in common, they have some common interests and views. This is the spirit of Dakar.
The sand is like magic. It’s scary, but everybody wants to do it. Even those, who can’t drive on sand. This is the excitement of the race.
Dakar 2003, the 25th Dakar, Tunisia-Libya-Egypt.
It was my first Dakar. My favorite by far, and the most beautiful one. And the most challenging.
We decided we were going to go on my birthday, so all we really had was 6 months to prepare. It was a gamble. We didn’t even have a car back then. We paid the entry fee and started to think about how we were going to do it.
We bought a car for five thousand dollars. It was an old car. Imagine, we did not have any assistance, we prepared the car ourselves. We took with us the main spare parts, about 500 kg of parts plus instruments. Of course, we could not drive fast. The goal was to get to the finish line of each stage.
Everebody was telling us, that we wouldn’t make it in this car, but I knew I was going to make it. I could not imagine any other outcome.
We did not sleep much during the race. Just like you this year, we came to bivouacs in the morning. We were falling asleep on the go. We even managed to do some maintenance. We went to stages unshowered, sometimes with faces covered in dust and dirt. By the end of the race people even stopped recognizing us! We were pale and dirty, with hair sticking out, we looked like zombies. The car maintenance list was growing, and time was flying by. We were doing only things that allowed us to simply move forward. It came to the stage where we even stopped turning the car off, as we could not start the car because the battery had died and we could only start the car while it was moving, with a cable.
Of course, in the middle of the race my navigator and I started switching places at the wheel. One sleeps, the other one drives, otherwise no pilot can physically manage it. You simply follow the tracks, without any navigator.
One night we were driving, it was about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, in the desert. It was an interesting place, 70-80 km of very flat sand. All were driving as fast as they could. Imagine, you look on the road, and because of the headlights it seems to you like you are in a corridor. You cannot see anything beyond that light. And then it seems like you are driving in an endless tunnel. I was really trying not to drive into imaginary walls, I saw walls to the right and walls to the left, although in reality around us was a flat field of sand.
So I was so concentrated and intense, and I kept driving, and then I saw an animal in front of the car, either a dog or a light-colored wolf. Then I was also trying to not run over the animal, and it looked real, so real, that I wanted to tell the navigator about it. But then I thought, how could I tell him this, he would think I am insane, he would not respect me anymore. It was not good for team spirit.
I kept driving with this image of walls and an animal in front of me, and finally I decided to tell him. I couldn’t take this anymore. I told him, “You know, I understand you can think that there is something wrong with me, but I am driving in a tunnel and I see a dog running in front of the car, and I sometimes slow down in order not to hit the dog.” Then he told me, “You know, I’ve been seeing the tunnel and the dog for about an hour now, but I was afraid to tell you because you could think that I was insane.”
We were strongly bonded by the situation. We even had the same glitches.
After the finish line we didn’t even celebrate. In the hotel we went straight to bed and fell asleep immediately. I slept for 2.5 days in a row, and woke up 4 hours before the flight.
Of course, the idea to go to Dakar was not spontaneous. Dakar is a dream for many people. Not only for racers, but for the fans also. For me, Dakar is like Everest is for a mountain climber. To conquer it, to be on the highest point of the planet is a goal worse pursuing.
Every day I was doing something for the first time in my life: I washed the car with a KARCHER, drove on sand, got stuck in sand; I saw sunsets in the desert; confused, I rode on the racing route being followed by a racing truck or having a black buggy coming out of nowhere in front of me; I drove without a fuel filter, when the entire hood was covered in diesel oil and I was afraid that the car would explode, and I would burn the entire bivouac down and become a new Gerostratus. My battery fell apart; I could not pass through the Andes at the border of Argentina and Chile, and everybody was overtaking me while I was driving up the mountain at a speed of 20km/h, with clouds of black smoke behind me, and that was the moment when all the Dakar participants got to know me; I drove on a rope behind Haris’s truck.
The first three days of Dakar I was trying to figure out my role in it. The team is a perfectly linked mechanism where everybody has a place and knows what to do at each exact moment, and I, being a journalist, and for the first time at Dakar, had no idea at all what I could do and what I was not supposed to do, especially at bivouacs. The only thing I understood right was that I shouldn’t be in people’s way!
Anton helped me a lot. He saw my confusion about not being a “real participant” and told me, “You are at the raid, you are allowed anything you want!” Afterwards things got easier, everything fell into place, everything became clear, and I started to do things right.
Dakar gave me four personal heroes: Anton, Ainars, Maris and Andris, the two crews of my team.
I drove 10,500 kilometers on public roads, from one bivouac to another, going to race routes at special ramps.
It was hard, because every day we had to drive a certain number of kilometers, but it was on a good road, and we had the opportunity to stop and rest. We were sleep deprived, I slept from one to five hours at night, five hours was considered to be a good amount of sleep.
But those guys! Every day they were overcoming 300-650 km of special stages, which are rocks, river shallows, deserts, dunes the size of a mountain. And they not only had to drive it, but to get to the finish line no later than the set time, which means they had to hurry! And the marathon of the last five stages! Five sleepless days, on the edge, going forward, and forward, and forward.
It was amazing to see people being calm and smiling.
When I asked them, “How do you manage not to sleep for so long?” they said, “The most important thing is to make it through the liaison, then at the special stage it is such a drive, you forget about sleep.”
When you see it up close, you can’t help asking yourself, “Could I do it?” I don’t know. Maybe I could. But here is the difference: I COULD, and they DID!
The plane is going down, going through a loose veil of clouds, and I see the shore strip: gray sand, and sometimes small clusters of cardboard looking houses.
The cities. Many times I will be asking myself later, what do people do in these places, how do they live? “The Woman in the Dunes” by Kobo Abe comes to mind, with all the despair.
Peru is underneath, an ancient civilization, ancient culture, and with ancient architecture. It occurs to me that I’ve never worked in this country. All its neighbors, Venezuela, Ecuador, Columbia, Chile, and Bolivia were, one way or another, part of my work, but never Peru. Every time I flew to this country it was for the desire to do something for myself. Mountain climbing, long trails – all had personal reasons. Every time I sat down in an airplane for a flight to Lima, I was doing it for personal reasons.
The port facilities and oil storage tanks appeared along the coast line. We will be landing soon.
I think, it’s around the seventies, when I remember myself as a child. The first sketchy memories of childhood. As a child one can’t embrace the entire world and assess the gray monotony of surroundings, but this grayness around might be the latent reason for our childhood hobbies – we collected candy wrappers, chewing gum inserts, and brightly colored pieces of paper. For us they were simply the illustrations of some other life, behind the looking glass. I also had a suitcase full of postcards, and not just simple postcards, but foreign ones. Captured on the shutter speed, lines of lights from cars moving in some unknown city, with streets and embankments like nothing else I’ve ever seen before. Glossy paper. I used to make a carpet out of them on the floor of our Moscow apartment, and drive away in my dreams. I don’t remember my toys, but I do remember these huge colorful collages. I did not care at all what was on the other side of these postcards, what language they were written in (I could barely read in Russian back then) and where they came from. It was a fairy-tale world in front of me.
Ten years before it I was not even in sight. Africa, the socialist revolution in Mali, the struggle for political influence in a country that nobody needed pushed two systems against one another. The new government actively rejects the historical colonial dependence on France, implementing a policy of rapprochement with the USSR. Many Soviet experts in various industries fly to the country. France doesn’t give up. The colony of Soviets grows in Bamako, the Soviet Union sends to Africa its engineers and linguists. And of course, young people meet, and sometimes they fall in love. She was a young girl, a representative of Sovzagrstroy. He was a Frenchman, a military engineer, and they were both in an unknown country. One story among million of others, things that happen now and have happened before. Only 50 years ago the ideology and the customs of socialist conduct intervened in the relationship between two people. At the end of the business trip for her, her return to the USSR. No, nothing really bad happened, just a transfer from Sovzagranstroy to Mosproject, and no possibility to leave the country, the usual routine.
The censors usually opened all letters to the USSR from abroad, and opened envelopes usually never reached the addressees. A message on a postcard had a much better chance to make it, but one small postcard was not enough to express all the thoughts that shared between only two people. This story continued with very few interruptions for an entire 20 years! 20 years of simple letters about normal life on postcards – that is the origin of my colorful carpets.
20 years. And then it stopped. On January 14, 1986, 7:30 p.m. local time in Mali, Africa, during the Paris-Algiers-Dakar rally, the organizers’ helicopter crashed into a dune. Nothing strange, it happens, but the letters stopped coming. This is how Dakar has, in some strange way, touched my life from a distance.
It’s been 25 years since I finished school. I have served and worked in different parts of the world, and the borders don’t exist any more. I have relatives, work, and hobbies on different continents, and I live in airplanes. I graduated from a photography school myself and I know how to create a line of lights, it’s no longer a miracle for me. Everything has changed.
The airplane lands and I walk through the airport without even looking at signs. I know exactly where to go. In an hour Yulia’s plane will arrive from Paris, I will meet her, and we will travel towards Dakar. She will be going to see her husband, and I will be going to see my friend.
The hot sand. We are waiting for the electric vehicle, OSCar, at the finish line. The last stage. Anton is laying on the sand and stares into the sky. Last night, at the stage before the last one, his car broke down. I am not a technical person, so I can’t tell you what exactly happened. I know that the car could not be fixed. The car could not endure such hardship. One small stage was left. A man can endure anything, the metal car cannot.
And now I have this photo, Anton lies at the finish line and stares into the sky.
What do I need Dakar for? I have my own Dakar. After many years of mountain climbing, at Dakar I feel the same spirit, the same excitement and drive. This is what we lack in our lives.
It is like in this song of Vladimir Vysotsky,
“Down to cities, to cars, to the life, dull and bleak
We are getting ahead - as if losing the goals...
But we always come back from the mountain peak
Which we conquered and where we left our souls.”
I know this feeling. Peru, Alpamayo, one of the most beautiful peaks, 2003. The mountain. 150 meters to the peak, the summit camp is 500 meters behind. Between the summit and the base camp there is a long difficult trail, with ice falls and cracks, meaning very long and hard work. The sun, early morning, the bright snow. 150 meters to the peak – two hours of work, two final hours of work that started a year before the climbing. 150 meters, and there is nowhere to climb, the quality of ice and snow is below the permissible levels. After exchanging a few words with my Chilean friend, we start to descend. I don’t hesitate, I am sure I’ve done all I could. I can see the peak, it seems to be right here, but we start going down. Yet nevertheless I am happy, I did everything right.
Maris’s and Andris’s car slows down for a second, they pick up Anton, and they all together cross the finish line in Maris’s car. It’s a victory! They will drive to the podium in Lima together, and they will be happy, it’s their victory to share. They won together, they did everything right, and the entire team won; each and every person. I am looking at Anton. He did everything the way he wanted. His personal finish line will be at the next Dakar.
You need to complete your Dakar your way, feel it with your own feelings. Your own Dakar for the sake of yourself.
10 hours have passed as I’ve been waiting with others for Anton. During the wait the mechanics and I have talked about and discussed everything, had coffee, then tea, then again coffee, and tea again. It was an endless process. The time passed by so slowly.
The guys were telling me how the crews managed in the race, that they had so many sleepless nights. I felt scared and sorry for them at the same time. I was overwhelmed by the pride and respect for those who took the challenge, and was proud of my own hero.
The bivouac looked like a melting pot with a boiling potion. A potion made of men and by men. The exclusive world of men, where there is no place for weakness, anger, or hypocrisy.
“Go to bed, they are not coming any time soon”, said Haris, so I gave up after hours of torturous waiting. It was about two o’clock in the morning. A couple more hours were left. Through the rumble of constantly working generators, conversations, and cars passing by, I heard that our team had arrived.
I could read everything in Anton’s eyes, those eyes I love so much. His tired but glowing eyes told me everything that was going on during that time. Pain, patience, fear, danger, disappointment, anger, happiness – they had it all!
Once I witnessed how one musher chose dogs for his team. Even if a dog has just come home and is tired, the moment it sees its master getting ready to leave, it is ready to go in spite of anything. No matter what is going to happen, there is only one way, straight ahead, overcoming any obstacles. The same was happening in this game of men.
The times when men went to war, to conquer new lands, to fight for honor, to defend their family, or their tribe, their country did not go anywhere, but they transformed. Dakar is like a story from a movie. I felt joy and happiness for all the participants.
Thank God we have men and we have different ideas about dreams!
A few words about the finish line. If your crew did make it, there would be no you the way you are now, and this story would also be different. Remember, everything is good in its season!
Good luck to you at the Silk Way Rally, and new DAKAR!
I love you.
I thought that in the end I would be thanking everyone by name, but when I started to do so, I realized that I could not stop and that it is impossible to mention all the names. The list is too long.
This is why I am simply saying THANK YOU to each and everyone.
I achieved the main goal of Dakar 2012. Mission completed!
I have set new goals for the Silk Way Rally 2012 and Dakar 2013. It will be interesting.
Good luck to all of us!
Thierry Sabin, the founder of Dakar, who died in 1986 at 36 years of age when his helicopter crashed during the eighth Dakar, referred to Dakar as…
The challenge for those who dare, the dream for those who stayed home
And this is not only about Dakar.
Now I know.